MIR’s 30 Years: Back in the U.S.S.R. (VIDEO)

MIR’s 30 Years: Back in the U.S.S.R. (VIDEO)

(Douglas Grimes is co-founder and president of MIR Corporation.)

Our company, MIR Corporation, is celebrating 30 memorable years of travel beyond anything we could have imagined, back when we first organized and led citizen exchanges, including a group of volleyball players to the U.S.S.R. After those initial successes in the mid-1980s, it seemed natural to turn our passion for travel into a business where we could share the Soviet Union with other intrepid travelers. Yet, there was a point when we weren’t sure MIR would last more than five years, back in the U.S.S.R. days of 1991, when the Soviet Union was turned on its head:


Five-Year Plan It’s ironic to think that the Soviet Union was built on a command economy of five-year plans, from highly structured industrialization to collective farming. And yet, in the five years from when MIR began in 1986 to the fall of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, I believe more change and transformation took place – most of it unplanned – than in all the years since the Soviet Union was created in 1922. These Soviet stamps and their subjects – Lenin, hammer and sickle, exhortations to the Motherland – reflect some of that history. 

This 1988 "perestroika" stamp reflects a whirlwind of changing times in the U.S.S.R. Photo credit: Helen Holter

This 1988 “perestroika” stamp reflects a whirlwind of changing times in the U.S.S.R.
Photo credit: Helen Holter

(click on photo for larger version)


MIR’s Mission: Citizen ExchangesOur travel business was made up mostly of citizen exchanges between Americans and Soviets, from doctors, lawyers, agricultural experts and athletes to alpinists, clowns, and police officers.

In these citizen exchanges, we arranged multi-city tours which spanned the territory of the U.S.S.R., with opportunities for participants to have deep round-table discussions with their professional counterparts. The meaningful and intense dialogue often resulted in friendships forged and lasting professional and personal connections. It was challenging and hard work, but for us at MIR in 1991 we felt we were closing the gap between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., and opening people’s minds up to viewing their professional counterparts as real people – personal friends, not enemies – and the Soviet Union as a richly complex and history-laden country, and not the “Evil Empire.” 

An early MIR exchange: Los Angeles police officers swap caps with their Soviet counterparts, after joining them on a Moscow beat Photo credit: MIR Corporation

An early MIR exchange: Los Angeles police officers swap caps with their Soviet counterparts, after joining them on a Moscow beat
Photo credit: MIR Corporation

(click on photo for larger version and caption)


Should MIR Call It Quits?When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, we at MIR faced a watershed moment of whether to continue our five-year-old business, or throw in the towel. Seemingly overnight, almost all of our travel business vanished, which mostly consisted of our meaningful, pioneering U.S.-Soviet citizen exchanges.

After the 1991 coup, many of the Soviet organizations we worked with – on both sides – either shut down or stopped participating in citizen exchanges, and that’s how the bulk of MIR’s business dried up. We were faced with a fateful decision: Should MIR call it quits? 

After much reflection, we chose to retool and move forward. 

Massive Lenin banners were once ubiquitous in Moscow's Red Square, where this one hung in the 1980s. <br>After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, they quickly disappeared. <br>Photo credit: Helen Holter

Massive Lenin banners were once ubiquitous in Moscow’s Red Square, where this one hung in the 1980s.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, they quickly disappeared.
Photo credit: Helen Holter

On the Road, 30 YearsI don’t think anyone – not even us – could have predicted that the Soviet Union would collapse and become 15 countries in such a short time, but it did happen. We at MIR decided to focus on bringing travelers to these new countries, each one steeped in its own culture, language, history and traditions. As it turned out, the fall of the Soviet Union created pioneering opportunities to visit these places with a different perspective than when each was a Soviet Socialist Republic of the U.S.S.R.

(Click on photo for larger version and caption: (first row) Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus; (second row) Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan; (third row) Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania; (fourth row) Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan; (fifth row) Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan)






I am deeply humbled by all that has taken place at MIR in these 30 years since we began to plan that early U.S.-Soviet citizen exchange in 1986, focused on my life-long passion: volleyball. MIR has exceeded all my expectations of what I thought possible back then, back in the U.S.S.R. and its chilly Cold War days. We’ve expanded from one country, the Soviet Union, to 35 at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. MIR makes it possible to see places in this world that may otherwise seem difficult, remote and unreachable.  Our travelers tell us MIR tours and custom journeys make them feel more connected and engaged with the places they see and the people they meet – and often befriend – along the way.

Douglas Grimes, in the early years of MIR <br>Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Douglas Grimes, in the early years of MIR
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

(click on photo for larger version)


Douglas Grimes blends in with locals in Central Asia, today one of MIR's most popular destinations <br>Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

Douglas Grimes blends in with locals in Central Asia, today one of MIR’s most popular destinations
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

MIR’s Next 30 YearsFor nearly 30 years I’ve been saying ‘da:’ to life’s changes and challenges in the world and in the travel world. MIR’s name has dual meaning: both “world” and “peace” in Russian.  It’s a name that continues to resonate in all that we do: travel promotes peace through deeper understanding not only of our geographic, cultural, and linguistic differences, but of our similarities as well.

Do I wish I could go back to the U.S.S.R. and those 1980s early days of Cold War travel? They are great memories with enduring nostalgia, but I prefer looking forward to the future and all that lies ahead in the next three decades for me, for MIR, and for MIR’s intrepid travelers. 

More on “MIR’s 30 Years”

Learn more about “MIR’s 30 Years” in the stories below, all embedded with videos. They include MIR’s beginnings and the mindset and mission of MIR’s president and co-founder, Douglas Grimes; MIR’s utterly unique travel offerings at the crossroads of Europe and Asia; and Siberia, one of MIR’s favorites specialties.

You can also view the video series of “MIR’s 30 Years” on MIR’s YouTube channel, MIRCorpTravel, specifically under the playlist, “MIR’s 30 Years.”

MIR’s Beginnings

MIR’s One-of-a-Kind Journeys

Siberia, A MIR Specialty

MIR, in a Nutshell

(Top photo: Hammer & sickle along with a Kremlin red star: symbols of the C.C.C.P., the U.S.S.R. Photo credit: Helge Pedersen) 

PUBLISHED: October 6, 2016

Related Posts

Share your thoughts